Your guide to better van loading A man in blue overalls carrying a cardboard box from a removal van which is being unloaded by two other men in blue overalls

How to load a van: simple tips for safety and efficiency

Take a look at our guide to better van loading for tips on how to save time, stay safe and avoid mishaps when loading and unloading cargo.

By knowing your cargo, making sure it’s packed appropriately, and planning each step in good time, you can make loading and unloading your van faster and safer – protecting both you and the items you want to transport.

Firstly, have a good look at the loading site before you begin, and make sure that you will not be violating any traffic laws by stopping and loading your van.

In particular, you should look out for:

  • Double and single yellow lines - the local authority will set its own time limits and restrictions, so be sure to read any signs near the loading site carefully
  • Designated loading bays - these permit loading and unloading by commercial vehicles for a maximum of 20 minutes, but the signage on-site should clarify the rules
  • Metered and residents’ parking bays – these will usually allow loading or unloading for up to 20 minutes without payment, unless it has been suspended there
  • Pavements - try to avoid parking even partly on a pavement to load or unload your van, unless someone intends to stay with the vehicle and there is no other practical option.

The Freight Transport Association publishes detailed guidance on where you can and cannot load and unload a van in the UK.

Easy does it: safe loading and unloading technique

Before you start any lifting at all, be sure to prepare the ground – literally in this case – by checking for obstructions, kerbs, potholes, etc. – anything that you could trip you up as you carry your load to the van. If you think you might need a midway stopping point, case it out beforehand.

Also ensure that the loading site is:

  • out of the way of other traffic – either human or vehicle
  • clear of electric cables
  • on firm and level ground.

Don’t forget to also check the floor of your van for obstructions and slippery patches too.

Next, recap the basics of how to lift safely. Most people know these in principle but they’re easily forgotten in the rush to finish a job.

  1. Keep the load close to your waist, with the heaviest side against your body
  2. Keep your back mostly straight and try not to twist, particularly while lifting
  3. Keep your head up and your movements smooth
  4. Lower heavy items gently into the van first, and only then adjust their position so they’re exactly where you want them
  5. Know your limits. This applies too when lifting in pairs, which will increase the amount you can safely carry, but only by around two-thirds.

Van loading basics

Plan the order in which items will be loaded into the van. Changing your mind later will cost a lot more time than planning it out beforehand.

Before you begin loading, ensure that all fragile items are wrapped or packed to give them sufficient protection. This includes wrapping obviously delicate items like glass and ceramics, but also covering wooden surfaces with sheeting to prevent scratches.

When it comes to furniture, make sure that no drawers or doors will open during transit. Packing furniture and white goods upright around the sides, and then packing other items around them, is a good way to keep these items secure. If you do this, make sure the weight is balanced evenly to make the van more stable and easier to drive.

Pack the heaviest, sturdiest items at the bottom. Again, this sounds like common-sense but you can only achieve it if you know the cargo well before you begin loading.

Securing a load in a truck

Unsecured loads can shift inside the trailer, damaging the cargo and potentially making unloading difficult or even hazardous at the other end.

Loads that move around in transit can also endanger people in the cabin, either by causing the van to roll or by shifting forwards when braking.

The load will be more secure if it is loaded against the front of the truck, and with the lowest possible centre of gravity. If there is empty space inside the van, you can stop the load moving around by securing it with a webbing strap or chain.

But even these measures have their limit – which means that it’s important to be loading a van that’s fit for purpose.

Make sure not to overload your van by exceeding its design gross weight. You’ll find this limit on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) plate inside your van.

For detailed official guidance, see the Health and Safety Executive’s pages on load safety.

Van loading equipment

Having the right equipment (and remembering to use it) can be a big help with loading your van.

For example, installing steps at the rear of some vans can give you a more controlled entrance and exit when carrying a load. Additional lashing points and rails can be installed to give you more options for securing the load before setting off. You can also install rubber non-slip flooring to give you more stability when walking inside your van.

In addition, one of the simplest ways to make loading your van safer and more efficient is to purchase a loading ramp.

Van loading ramps

Van loading ramps can make the process of loading and unloading a lot smoother, reducing the temptation to stoop or twist as you enter and exit the van. These loading ramps come in many forms, from spring-assisted folding ramps to lightweight aluminium varieties. Make sure you’re familiar with the limits of whatever ramp you are using.

Unloading your van

Follow the same essential procedures when you unload your van as you did when you loaded it.

This means checking that the spot is legal and safe, that your way is clear of obstructions, that the ground is firm and level and that you’re carrying all items in the safest way possible.

In the rush to load or unload your van, it’s easy to forget some of these steps, but mishaps can have serious consequences, both for yourself – back injuries, for example, are a leading cause of absences from work – and for your precious cargo.

We’ve got lots more tips for van drivers, including advice on buying and maintaining your van, in our Van Knowledge Centre.

Are you happy with your van insurance? See if you can make savings or improve your cover by obtaining a van insurance quote today.

Gary Holmes
Gary Holmes

Gary Holmes
Last Updated: 02 Jun 2016